Speaking of Audiobooks: December 2011 Releases

s LoverIt’s time to take a look at December’s romance audio releases and I imagine something will catch your interest.  When I compare our unabridged new releases list today to our 2009 December unabridged list, I see that there are twice as many on today’s list!  Either I’m better at finding new releases or the production of romance audio has increased significantly.  I think it’s some of both!

We also have seven reviews including Meljean Brooks’ The Iron Duke, Lisa Kleypas’ Midnight Angel, Christine Feehan’s The Twilight Before Christmas, Lisa Kleypas’ Stranger in My Arms, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Anne Stuart’s Shameless, and Suzanne Brockmann’s Harvard’s Education.

Transcript Available for Narrators Forum

A written transcript of our Narrators Forum will be available this week.  Although you can read the forum in its entirety in the discussion area of the column, I know some desire to read the forum and the following discussion in one easy-to-read document.  Please email me and give me your name and email address if you desire a copy.

I must take a minute to state how thrilled I am with not only the forum but the discussion between readers and narrators after the forum ended (and it continued for days).  If you didn’t check back in after the first day, you missed some great discussion.

Audiobook Romances on Sale in December

Includes new formats of existing audiobooks.  All unabridged unless otherwise stated.

Crusie, Jennifer – Charlie All Night Narrated by Aimee Jolson

Delinsky, Barbara – Twelve Across Narrated by Cristina Panfilio

Duvall, Dianne – Night Reigns Narrated by Kristen Potter

Garlock, Dorothy – Come a Little Closer Narrator unknown

Guhrke, Laura Lee – Trouble at the Wedding Narrated by Anne Flosnik

Heiber, Leanna Renee – The Perilous Prophecy of Guard & Goddess Narrator unknown

Jackson, Lisa – Abandoned: Sail Away & Million Dollar Baby Narrated by Kate Rudd

Jackson, Lisa – Zachary’s Law Narrated by Liza Kaplan

Johansen, Iris – Touch the Horizon Narrated by Angela Brazil

Killough-Walden, Heather – Avenger’s Angel Narrated by Gildart Jackson

Killough-Walden, Heather – The Heat Narrated by Gildart Jackson

Killough-Walden, Heather – The Strip Narrated by Gildart Jackson

Kleypas, Lisa – Lady Sophia’s Lover Narrated by Susan Duerden

Kleypas, Lisa – Worth Any Price Narrated by Susan Duerden

Krentz, Jayne Ann – Between the Lines Narrated by Amy Rubinate

Krentz, Jayne Ann – Gambler’s Woman Narrated by Alyson Silverman

Laurens, Stephanie – An Unwilling Conquest Narrated by Nellie Chalfant

MacLean, Julianne – Captured by the Highlander Narrated by Antony Ferguson

Macomber, Debbie – The Forgetful Bride Narrated by Christina Panfilio

McCarty, Sarah – Slade Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Robards, Karen – Sleepwalker Narrated by Kate Rudd

Shalvis, Jill – Animal Attraction Narrated by Karen White

Tyler, Stephanie – In the Air Tonight Narrated by Johanna Parker

Tyler, Stephanie – Night Moves Narrated by Johanna Parker

Warren, Christine – Black Magic Woman Narrated by Kate Reading

Warren, Christine – Prince Charming Doesn’t Live Here Narrated by Kate Reading

Woods, Sherryl – Waking Up in Charleston Narrated by Tanya Eby

Romance Audio Reviews

The Iron DukeThe Iron Duke – Meljean Brook

Review written by LinnieGayl

Narrated by Faye Adele

I’m a big fan of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate steampunk series so I jumped at the chance to review this in audio.  Meljean Brook has created a much darker world than Carriger’s, without the comic relief.  The main characters here have suffered horribly and are doing everything they can to survive.  However, this is also a wonderfully complex world with a fantastic heroine and therefore, a series I’ll continue.  Rike’s DIK review of The Iron Duke’s print version (the first in the Iron Seas series) completely describes the setup for this steampunk world.  I agree with her assessment and will focus on the audio version here.

I thought narrator Faye Adele was fantastic and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other works by her.  That being said, the complexity of the world building was initially problematic in audio.  This is one of those books where, if reading in print, I would have done a lot of flipping back and forth between the pages to reread some of the descriptions.

The beginning of The Iron Duke is a bit jarring in audio.  Mina Wentworth goes to investigate a murder at Rhys Trahearn’s home and she, as well as everyone else, speaks very loudly in rather clipped tones.  I quickly realized that as part of a criminal investigation, the volume given to the characters’ speech was appropriate for such an occasion.  While I had to turn down the sound a bit at that point, it fit with the story and was effective.

Ms. Adele continues this attention to detail throughout the book.  Each character’s unique voice fits well with their personality.  During military battle scenes, the warriors bark out orders.  Mina’s voice is softer when she is thinking about something and louder when interrogating a witness.

Mina is a richly developed heroine and the narration only added to her complexity.  I truly felt for her, thanks not only to the writing, but Adele’s narrative skills.  While she adequately performs Rhys Trahearn, he remains a bit of a cypher for much of the book.  Only toward the end did we really learn much about his feelings and motivations.  And I truly could have done without Rhys saying that he was going to “shag” Mina as many times as he did.

Despite my issues with Rhys, I’m captivated by the world Meljean Brook has developed and will definitely pick up the next in the series.  And if Faye Adele is once again the narrator, I will be listening to it in audio.

Midnight Angel – Lisa Kleypas

Review written by Diana

Narrated by Susan Duerden

First published in 1995 and set in 1870s England and Russia, Midnight Angel is a lush prequel to Prince of Dreams.  It’s a delightful throwback to an earlier time of historical romance when plots weren’t limited to formulaic tales of Regency rakes and misses, and that is precisely why I enjoyed it so much.

Widower Lucas Lord Stokehurst takes on a prim, young Miss Billings (Tasia) as governess to his adolescent daughter Emma.  To say that Miss Billings is not as she seems is a vast understatement.  Tasia is a Russian aristocrat and a murder suspect who faked her death and escaped a St. Petersburg prison just hours before her scheduled execution.  Prince Nikolas Angelovsky, cruel and soulless, has vowed vengeance on Tasia for the bloody murder of his depraved younger brother and pursues her relentlessly while Lucas is equally committed to protecting her.

While I appreciate the fact that Kleypas has written far more polished books since Midnight Angel, I loved the grand passionate nature of these characters.  I overlooked the plot holes and melodrama and simply wallowed in a bit of a crazy, bigger-than-life fairy tale.  And how cool is it that Tasia’s nemesis Nikolas is redeemed into hero material for Prince of Dreams?

Susan Duerden’s narration is delightful.  Her English accent is lovely and her Russian accent very convincing.  Her male voices are appropriately deep and heroic.  Duerden delivers an excellent performance that is exactly in keeping with Kleypas’ unbridled, fun, passionate story.

Lea’s comment: In August, I reviewed Prince of Dreams and stated that it worked well as a stand-alone.  I still believe it can function as such but after listening to Midnight Angel this past week, I strongly urge you to listen to Midnight Angel first.  I’m starting a relisten of Prince of Dreams now that I see how much I missed by listening out of order.  What a great pair of audios!

The Twilight Before Christmas – Christine Feehan

Review written by Brenda

Narrated by Teri Clark Linden

The Twilight Before Christmas is the second book in Christine Feehan’s Drake Sisters series and the only one, up until now, not available in audiobook format.  A new publisher meant a change in narrator (which is hard when it comes to a series) but I did enjoy listening to Teri Clark Linden once I settled in with her take on these familiar characters.  The story itself seemed choppy at times; I had to double check that I wasn’t listening to an abridged version after some sudden shifts.  I’m guessing this is due to the fact that this book is actually just a long novella.

The seven Drake sisters come from a long line of magically gifted women.  Sea Haven, the coastal town they call home when not traveling for work, accepts that they are different without acknowledging that magic is involved.

Matt Granite has loved Kate Drake from afar for years and when she hires him to renovate an old mill, he seizes the opportunity to get closer to her.  They are together when an earthquake releases something malevolent that has been trapped under ground – and it’s just as the town is preparing for their annual Christmas Pageant.  Kate doubts Matt is ready to accept the real her along with the power she and her sisters must bring to the fore to rid their town of this mysterious entity.

Ms. Linden clearly defines each character by voice.  Although one particular character made me cringe, she does a good job with the overall narration and carries through with the right attitude and demeanor for each personality as written.  Having a complete grip of the storyline is something romance listeners require of narrators and Teri Clark Linden delivers.

Stranger in My Arms – Lisa Kleypas

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Stranger in My Arms is one of those few Lisa Kleypas books that remained in my To Be Read pile for years.  Any time I considered reading it, my mind filled with scenes from the movie Sommersby with Jack Sommersby (Richard Gere) trying to convince a widowed Laurel Sommersby (Jodi Foster) that he is her husband, alive and well instead of buried and gone.  The movie doesn’t end well when one’s a romance reader who expects happy endings.  I didn’t dare try Stranger in My Arms as I had no desire to read a storyline similar to Sommersby.

Well, I was right to hesitate all those years.  The plots are very similar although it’s not the Civil War era this go round but rather Regency England with Hunter, the Earl of Hawksworth, returning to take back his title and Lara, his wife, who hasn’t missed her inconsiderate husband one bit.  Hunter tries to win Lara’s favor and, as I expected, Lara wants nothing to do with him.  I understood her hesitancy (who wouldn’t?) but it went on far too long and included some distasteful testing of Hunter’s loyalties.  I didn’t care for Lara despite her noteworthy dedication to charitable causes.

Before listening to Stranger in My Arms, I made a conscious decision to give narrator Rosalyn Landor yet another chance.  I keep hoping that I will learn to like her narrations especially when I take a look at the number of Kleypas books she’s performed (fifteen) and a number of those are personal favorites.  Unfortunately, this was not the book to win me over.  Ms. Landor’s depiction of her male characters in the past has been far too rough for my vision of a romance hero.  Unfortunately, I needed to completely care for Hunter to make Stranger in My Arms a success since I was having such a difficult time accepting Lara as written.  But once again, Landor delivered a hero who sounded arrogant, unfeeling, and unkind although his character was not written as such.  Her performance of Hunter only caused the book to spiral downward at a greater speed.

And about all that wondering I did all those years about the ending of Sommersby versus the ending of Stranger in My Arms?  Let’s just say that the Kleypas tale does fall within romance standards.

s Baby but Mine audioNobody’s Baby But Mine – Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Anna Fields

Melinda wrote this note to me when sending her review of an old favorite to me.

“It’s more a love letter to the Chicago Stars series than a review, and it’s way too long. But, hey, it had to be said.”

Anyone who is a fan of the Susan Elizabeth Phillips Chicago Stars series as performed by Kate Fleming/Anna Fields can probably hear her saying “read by Anna Fields” at the beginning of every narration.  The combination of these two incredible woman – Phillips and Fields – makes for one of the funniest, most fantastical and still realistic, touching and romantic contemporary series ever recorded.

Jane Darlington is a 30-something professor, a former child prodigy who grew up feeling freakish and geeky.  She wants to have a baby and raise it by herself but there will be no sperm bank for her.  Jane wants the biological sperm donor to be her complete opposite – good looking but stupid – to guarantee a normal life.  She picks the man she figures is just a dumb jock, Chicago Stars quarterback Cal Bonner, off a TV screen where he’s just shown the world how stupid he really is by using the word “ain’t.”

In a fantasy twist only Phillips can pull off, Jane’s neighbor manages to introduce the two and the game is on.  Cal’s not as dumb as he looks – he’s a summa cum laude graduate with a highly competitive nature and a strong moral code.  The only way any woman is going to bring his child into the world is as his wife.

The first time I listened to this story, I admit I was a little horrified.  Tricking a man into becoming a sperm donor just doesn’t seem an appropriate subject of romantic comedy.  In fact, it’s so non-politically correct that I know with each discussion of Nobody’s Baby But Mine, there will always be those who must comment on its premise.  But now that I’ve relistened to the series four times, I can honestly say that it’s so outrageous, so hysterical, so laugh-out-loud that I just want to stop my iPod and relisten to the seduction scenes all over again.  It ain’t real life, people, it’s comedy!

Anna Fields’ incredible gift of voice acting is something I’m pretty sure narrators strive to emulate.  She gives distinct, natural voices to all her characters including children.  Ms. Fields reads the narrative as though telling you a story around a campfire.  I never notice any repetitive vocal patterns or bizarre pronunciations.  She’s not perfect – when she gives Michigan-bred Kevin Tucker, the hero of This Heart of Mine, a Texas accent in Match Me If You Can, I wince every time!  But the peccadilloes of the occasional wrong word or name never pull me out of the story when she’s spinning a yarn just for me, right in my ears.

I like to do a Stars marathon at least once a year to remind myself why I love to listen to romance.  At the very end of Jane and Cal’s story, Cal produces the pink bow Jane wore when she came into his life.  It’s one of romance writing’s most touching and heart-felt gestures from a hero.  And that, my friends, is why I love to listen to romance.

Shameless – Anne Stuart

Review written by Lea Hensley

Narrated by Susan Ericksen

As a fan of The House of Rohan series, I find myself gasping in both horror and delight as I listen to each entry.  These edgy stories with their cold, ruthless heroes are definitely not for the faint of heart.  All with heroes “you love to hate” at one point or another, each of the four books has been my favorite of the series until the next one comes along.  Now book 4, Shameless, holds the honor.

Benedick, Viscount Rohan, stands out from the other Rohan heroes in that he doesn’t belong to the Heavenly Host.  Good.  I was ready for a view from the outside although Benedick is familiar with the group.  Yeah, I was ready for a tamer story as well.  If I had read about too many Heavenly-Host-belonging-Rohans – all acting dastardly (and not learning from their elders who discovered the true meaning of love) – my interest may have lessened.  Stuart seemed to know it was time to cut back on the intensity of her almost irredeemable heroes and just gives us a wicked rake (albeit a vicious one at times) who wants to marry because he needs an heir and an older heroine, Melisande, who takes in fallen women and helps them establish a new life.  Shameless has the feel of a more traditional historical romance.

The supposedly defunct Heavenly Host has taken a turn towards violence and it’s not looking good for the local virgins.  Melisande approaches Benedick asking for his help in rescuing one of her charges from sacrifice by the Host.  Unwilling but deciding he may help his Host-belonging brother in the process, the two start working together by attending affairs where they must appear as lovers.

As with the previous House of Rohan books, Susan Ericksen narrates.  Ericksen gets what Stuart is writing and imbues her characters with those actions and feelings I know are accurate through not only written descriptions but also by simply feeling that these characters, as performed, fit this story – just as was intended.  I do wish the voices were a bit more discernable but not enough to keep me from completely enjoying the narration.

I’m not a fan of listening to books in a series – one after the other – in which the narrator is required to introduce a new hero and heroine with each entry.  Even the best of narrators has difficulty keeping the new leads from sounding like previous leads.  I usually space those series books at least six weeks apart to avoid the all-too-often criticism of “These characters sound like previous characters.”  Did Benedick or Melisande sound like a previous hero or heroine?  It’s quite likely but happily, I can’t really remember.

Harvard’s Education – Suzanne Brockmann

Review written by Melinda

Narrated by Maia Guest

Let me start by resolving the issue of the narrator – it’s Maia Guest.  Audible lists Maia Guest as the narrator but the credits at the beginning and end of the actual audiobook name Gabra Zackman.  After researching, I can assure you that it is Guest.

I’m on a glom of the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series in audio.  These are great little bite-sized Brockmann stories, her first SEAL series, and the precursor to her Troubleshooters series. Harvard’s Education features Senior Chief Darryl “Harvard” Becker.  He’s working with the Alpha Squad and four “finks” on a special corroborative mission.  For the Fincom agents, it’s a training exercise; for the SEALS, it’s proof the “finks” can’t cut it, especially that tiny woman on their crew.  PJ Richards, aforementioned woman, is out to prove that while the other Fincom agents may be idiots, she can best any one of the SEALS.  OK, maybe not at strength or stealth…and she’s afraid of heights and hates flying…but she can shoot!  Unfortunately, Harvard has a thing about women in the military, especially when he’s the one who’s distracted by the hot little mama.  And PJ plans to teach him a thing or two he didn’t learn at Harvard.

Narrator Maia Guest has a mesmerizing, non-inflective method of narration that caught me in a web as she crooned the story in my ears.  Her vocal differentiation is slim to none between characters – her male voices aren’t necessarily pitched lower – only PJ is truly discernible.  She uses something that might be called an accent for PJ, although it’s really more an attitude.  PJ grew up in D.C., a tough street kid, and her scrappy nature comes through.

Although on paper this may sound like the worst type of narration to some – it worked for me.  It kept me pinned to my chair for several hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Time for Your Thoughts

What new releases are you looking forward to?

Do you know of a new romance release that didn’t make the list?

Have you listened to one of today’s review books?  What were your thoughts?

And, as always, what are your latest audio successes or failures?

Ending Notes

I’m announcing news for the Speaking of Audiobooks column and other audio tidbits on Twitter – look for SpeakingofAudio (formerly LeaAAR).

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps growing and we now have 171 members.  It’s easy to join and it’s a great place for discussion in between our columns.

To find a full listing of all of our audiobook reviews since the beginning of our Speaking of Audiobooks column, go to our Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads Mini-Review bookshelf.  We have over 200 romance audiobook reviews.

Enjoy your listening!

– Lea Hensley

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